why i don’t want to be “the one that got away” {part 2}

{If you missed Part One, you can read it here!}

When we left off in our story, I had finally gotten over my crush on M and felt like we had a real friendship. In fact, he was one of my best friends. But then one night he came over and said exactly what I had wished for the previous year…

It felt like something out of a movie, or like a big joke. I kept waiting for him to laugh and say he was just messing with me, but I had never seen him more serious. He said that he really liked me, as more than just a friend. That he wanted to give us a shot. And I thought about how much I had hoped for this—that he would wake up and realize that, despite all evidence to the contrary and despite turning down countless opportunities to date me, he had actually been in love with me the whole time. If I had written this in a story for my Creative Writing workshop, my classmates would have lampooned the plot for being wholly unbelievable and contrived. Yet, here he was, earnestness in his eyes as he gently took my hand. I told him yes, of course, let’s give us a shot. There was a knot in my stomach, but I pushed it away.

M and I only dated for a couple weeks. I had thought my feelings for him would be like a faucet that I could turn on again, but in reality they were the embers of a fire that had gone out. I simply didn’t think of him that way anymore. My wish had come true—I was completely over him. What had I written in my journal? Someday, M is going to look back and regret that he treated me like this, and by then I’ll have moved on. It will be too late. That is exactly what had happened. I got exactly what I wished for.

And it was awful.

M seemed to take things well at first, and I thought we could still be friends. But when I started dating someone else, he became mopey and awkward. Our friendship withered away. I only saw him occasionally, at group hang-outs and parties, and I never knew what to say to him. Our other friends grew annoyed, complaining that he talked incessantly about how to win me back. In truth, he didn’t even know me anymore. I wasn’t a real person to him; I was a prize atop a pedestal. I was “the one that got away.” I have a memory of one party towards the end of senior year, when I spent a while talking to him, listing out all of my bad habits, trying to convince him of all the reasons why he didn’t want to date me. That seems like it should be a symbol for something.

I haven’t talked to M in a long time. I hope he is doing well. I hope he has fallen madly in love and is exceedingly happy.

I think about M whenever the topic of revenge comes up. I think revenge is a deeply human emotion. It seems only natural to be hurting and to want someone else to hurt too. To feel unappreciated, and to want someone else to appreciate you too late. To feel unseen, and to want someone else to feel regret for what they missed. I believe that revenge is tied to vulnerability. We open ourselves up to someone and it goes badly—we feel too deeply and messily and hungrily—and we want to regain our sense of control. We want someone else to be vulnerable instead. I think that is at the root of revenge. It certainly was for me. I wouldn’t have called it “revenge” but in essence that’s what it was: I wanted to punish M for breaking my heart. I wanted him to always regret not loving me back, not opening up to me when I was vulnerable with him. At the time, it felt like I would always be hurting. It felt like I would never be enough for someone else. Looking back, that all seems so silly now. He was just doing his best, same as I was. We are all bumbling through life without an answer key. We are all just doing the best we can.

If I had a time machine, I would go back to freshman year of college and tell myself not to waste wishes on regret. I would tell myself not to yearn to be anybody’s “one who got away.” I would tell myself that I would end up with an amazing man who never plays any games, who loves and appreciates me and tells me so every day, and that is the ultimate prize. That it doesn’t cheapen my happiness to wish the same for everyone else, including everyone who has hurt me or broken my heart. Because I have hurt people, too. No one gets out of this life with their heart unscarred.

I read somewhere once that loving someone wholeheartedly—even when your heart gets broken—just means that you have built the capacity to love wholeheartedly again. I don’t want to be “the one that got away.” I want to be the small love who was preparation for the big love that lasts, the big love that was meant to be.

My mom always says, “The best revenge is to live a happy life.” I agree. Instead of plotting ways to “get back” at someone else, put that energy into making your own life as vibrant and joyful and beautiful as it can be. Build up your own happiness, rather than wanting to tear down someone else’s happiness. Yes, the best revenge is to live a happy life… and, I would add, to genuinely wish the best for the person who hurt you.

 

Your turn {if you want}:

Open your journal or a new document on your computer and use the following questions as jumping-off points for some heart-writing:

  • Write about a time someone broke your heart. How did you heal? What did you learn from that experience, painful as it might have been?
  • Write about a time you broke someone else’s heart. What did you learn from that experience?
  • Have you ever gotten exactly what you wished for?
  • Write about a time you wanted revenge or experienced regret.

why i don’t care about being “cool”

When you work with kids, like I do, they have a way of keeping you pretty dang humble.

Like last week. I was teaching a lesson with two young students who moved to the U.S. recently from Taiwan, and are ESL {English as a Second Language} learners. I was guiding them through a reading comprehension activity I developed, based on my children’s book There’s a Huge Pimple On My Nose! Usually, the kids reading this story know what a pimple is, but “pimple” was a new word for these two students.

“It’s a bump you get on your skin,” I explained to them. “Like a mosquito bite, but smaller. Then it goes away on its own. Usually when you’re a teenager is when you start getting pimples.”

The girl pointed to my face. “Like what you have on your chin?” she asked.

I laughed. “Yep, like what I have on my chin. Adults get pimples, too!”

Later that same day, I was leading a writing lesson with two third-graders. We were talking about brainstorming strategies and how, when you feel stuck or are struggling with writer’s block, it can help to write down every single idea that pops into your mind, no matter how silly or off-topic it might seem.

“Writer’s block happens to everyone,” I told them. “Even professional writers get stuck sometimes. I’ve been writing for twenty years and I still get writer’s block! All you can do is keep trying your best and don’t give up.”

“Wait–you’re a writer?” the boy asked. “Like, do you write books?”

“Yep,” I said, thinking maybe I was earning “cool points” in the eyes of my students.

“Then how come I’ve never heard of you?” he asked innocently.

“Well, I’m not famous yet,” I said, shaking off my stung pride. Elementary schoolers, man. They can be tough!

{But then sometimes they make you feel like a million bucks!}

I remember a time in my life when I cared about being “cool.” Back in middle school and high school, I definitely paid attention to the trends and tried to stay on top of things. I used to straighten my wavy hair when I wanted to feel “pretty” because shiny, stick-straight hair was the coveted kind. {Now my hair is naturally straighter, and—guess what? I miss my waves.} I remember using babysitting money to buy face glitter {I really think that’s what it was—not eyeshadow, but glitter for all over your face, because we were ridiculous like that in the late 90s} and the honeydew-melon spray from Bath & Body Works, which was THE popular scent in my middle school locker room. To complicate things further, the guidelines for what was “cool” sometimes contradicted each other. On the cross-country team, high running shorts and low invisible socks were the “cool” uniform; but on the basketball team, baggy shorts and high socks were in. I played both of these sports in high school. Usually the seasons were at separate times of the year, so coordinating my outfit wasn’t a problem… except for during the summer, when I had both basketball AND cross-country practices. I remember running into the bathroom to change my shorts and socks, slipping from one practice to the next—knowing that I would feel like everyone was looking at me funny if I showed up to cross-country with high socks and baggy shorts, or to basketball with short-shorts and low socks.

As I type this out now, it seems so silly. But at the time, it felt so important.

It wasn’t that I felt like being cool was the most important thing. I cared more about being kind, and curious, and thoughtful, and respected. I cared about being a good friend and a good sister and a good daughter. I cared about learning and growing and striving for my dreams.

But I also cared about being “cool.” I wanted to fit in. I wanted boys to like me.

When I think about that thirteen-year-old girl, peering critically into the mirror and wielding a straightening iron, I want to take her hands in mine and kiss her on the forehead and tell her, You are perfect just the way you are. There is no way you can make yourself any more beautiful than you already are, right this moment. You are exactly, wonderfully enough.  

When I went to college, my world opened up. What had been deemed irrevocably cool at my school had not necessarily been cool at someone else’s high school. I remember sitting around one afternoon with my college friends, going through our high school yearbooks. Looking through the line-ups of senior portraits, none of us were able to pick out who had been in the popular crowd at each other’s schools. It was such a strange, liberating realization. Those old rules didn’t apply anymore. Perhaps they never really had. We had been in small fishbowls, but now we were in the wide-open ocean. There was so much more room here. So much more life and light and color.

I began paying less and less attention to what the outside world marked as “cool” and more and more attention to what I liked, what made me happy, what made me comfortable. It didn’t really matter what someone else said was cool. What did I think was cool? I began to listen to that voice inside me, instead of the voices outside myself. I let my hair air-dry, wavy and natural. I wore tennis shoes. I listened to country music. {Holly and I loved Taylor Swift back in her early, first-album days, when our other roommates thought she was lame.}

I learned that true coolness isn’t about following someone else’s list of rules. It’s about being happy in your own skin and being joyful in your own life. That is what gives you the sparkle. That is what other people are drawn to. Not your face glitter. Not your high socks. Not your honeydew-melon body spray or perfectly straightened hair. It’s your… you-ness. Your confidence and contentment. It happens when you embrace the knowledge that you are the only person in human history who will ever be exactly like you, living your unique and beautiful life. Why try to cram that life into a one-size-fits-all box?

It’s probably not surprising that once I stopped trying to be cool, I became cooler. Boys asked me out on dates, tennis shoes and all.

At my wedding, I put on my tennis shoes and compression socks for the reception, because I wanted to dance my heart out and I wanted to be comfortable doing it. For most of the reception, they were hidden under my floor-length dress. But one of my favorite photos is of Allyn removing my garter for the garter toss. My shoes and compression socks are on full display. Our friends and family who were gathered around loved it. I felt like the coolest bride in the universe.

These days, when I think about how I want to be remembered, I don’t care one iota about being cool. I want to be remembered as someone who lived her life boldly, and freely, and generously, and gratefully. I want to be remembered as someone who spoke her truth, wrote about things that mattered, and loved others with all her heart. I want to be remembered for how I made people feel: encouraged and inspired and cared for and confident.

When my students grow up, I want them to remember their writing teacher Miss Dallas—yes, Miss Dallas with the pimple on her chin and no bestselling books to her name—as someone who believed in them and in their dreams. I want them to remember Miss Dallas as a teacher who made them feel empowered to express their wonderful, complicated, messy, hilarious, impossible ideas down on paper, and to actually have a bit of fun doing it. I want them to remember Miss Dallas as someone who always let them know how proud she was of them, and who taught them to be proud of themselves.

Your turn {if you want}:

Grab your journal or open a new document on your computer, and use the following questions as jumping-off points:

  • What was “cool” when you were growing up? Did you feel pressured to be “cool”?
  • Write about a time you felt distinctly uncool. What happened? How did you react to the experience?
  • How do you want to be remembered?

30 acts of kindness for my 30th birthday

This year, I’m ringing in a new decade! Yep—I’m joining my hubby in the 30’s club!

As when I turned 27, my birthday wish for this year is to create a “kindness chain” … I’ve spent the past few weeks doing 30 random acts of kindness, in honor of my 30th birthday. My birthday wish is for you to join me in an act of kindness. Please feel free to share your stories and acts of kindness in the comments section below!

my birthday wish

my 30 acts of kindness:

1. Bake goodies for a neighbor. One of our neighbors helped us Allyn carry a heavy desk up the stairs to our second-floor apartment when I was clearly struggling to hold up my end. He was just walking by and kindly came to our rescue! So I baked him some muffins with a thank-you note. I also gave some dried lavender in a small glass vase to our across-the-hall neighbor Joyce, who admired a vase of dried lavender in our apartment a few weeks ago.

thank you note

2. Donate stamps for The Letter Project. This organization was started by my blogging friend Whitney, and I love her mission to provide letters filled with comfort, hope and encouragement to women and girls. I have previously written letters for girls through The Letter Project, but I wanted to do a little bit more, so I donated some stamps too! Whitney works tirelessly to bring joy to others, and her efforts and genuine spirit inspire me so much.

3. Donate to a classroom on DonorsChoose in honor of all the teachers in my life. I chose this project to help bring a creative writing space to students in a Head Start program in Louisville, Kentucky. {Bonus: all donations are currently being doubled for this project!} This donation is also in honor of my brother Greg, who is a huge champion of Early Childhood Education and play-based learning, and who inspires me daily with his amazing work empowering administrators, educators and students through the nonprofit organization Right to Play.

4. Leave a kind note in a public place. I stuck this post-it note on the bathroom mirror at the airport!

5. Donate craft materials to the East Bay Depot for Creative Reuse. I learned about this really neat reuse center from my sweetheart, who has become a waste management expert due to all his environmental work. This organization welcomes donations of everything from used toilet paper rolls to old buttons to fabric, electronics, media and more! Everything at their center is available for teachers to come take to use in their classrooms, for free. It is a wonderful concept, and I was happy to go through our apartment and my grandma’s house and get some materials together to donate, including two fake plants! Allyn was sweet enough to drop the donation off for me when he went to the area to donate blood.

East Bay Depot Creative Reuse

6. Pay for someone else’s coffee. While visiting my hometown for my birthday weekend, I met up with my friend Erica for coffee at our favorite local spot, Simone’s. I gave the barista an extra $5 to pay forward to someone else’s coffee that day. I hope it gave a stranger a nice surprise!

{The two of us at Simone’s during a visit years ago!}

7. Reach out to a friend. I sent messages to a few friends I haven’t been in touch with in a while, and got wonderful responses in return!

8. Write a note of appreciation. I wrote a fan letter to one of my favorite bloggers, Alex Franzen, telling her how much her joyful spirit and empowering words mean to me. I also shared a video that Allyn took of me giving a talk as a Worship Associate, when I shared her words and a story from her blog. She wrote back to my email right away, and was so touched that she shared the video with all of her subscribers. I have long been a fan of Alex’s; now I feel like I made a new friend!

9. Pick up litter. When I walked my favorite loop around my parents’ neighborhood, I brought a plastic bag along with me and picked up any litter I saw. I was surprised how much I gathered in just twenty minutes!

10. Write glowing reviews of my doctorsI am so lucky to have wonderful doctors who truly make me feel cared about and safe. I wrote reviews of them on Yelp so that when prospective patients are searching for doctors, they will know that these people are amazing!

11. Deliver flowers to a nursing home. This is actually something I like to do every year on my birthday, in honor of my dear friend Jewell, who was also born in May—we used to always celebrate our birthdays together. This year, I bought a beautifully blooming orchid and delivered it to the Ventura Townhouse, where Jewell used to live. The woman working the front desk was delighted and surprised. I think Jewell was smiling! Love you and miss you, my sweet friend.

jewell

12. Plant trees. I donated to The Canopy Project through The Earth Day Network. Every dollar you donate equals a new tree planted! Earth Day Network works on the ground with organizations worldwide that strengthen communities through tree planting. Using sapling and seed distribution, urban forestry, agroforestry, and tree care training, this amazing and vital organization has empowered rural and urban people alike to conserve, repair, and restore tree cover to their lands. I donated $30 to plant 30 trees for my 30th birthday!

13. Corral shopping carts in a parking lot. Every time I went shopping, I took a few minutes to push a handful of stray carts into the designated areas.

14. Donate books and magazines to the library. I donated about half a dozen issues of The New Yorker magazine, some crossword puzzle books, and two novels to my local library.

15. Support indie musicians. I donated to two PledgeMusic campaigns for independent musicians I greatly admire, Amber Rubarth & Blind Pilot… their latest albums are such a treat that bring me so much joy every day! I listen to them on repeat. Amber’s album is “Wildflowers in the Graveyard” and Blind Pilot’s is “And Then Like Lions.”

me and amber rubarth 2

16. Review my favorite podcasts on iTunes. I wrote glowing reviews of two of my favorite go-to podcasts: Happier with Gretchen Rubin, and The Life Coach School with Brooke Castillo.

17. Buy a meal for a stranger. One time, when I was a little girl, my family was out at a restaurant for dinner, talking and laughing. We were having a great time, but as the evening progressed, my brother and I were getting a little antsy and ready to head home. I remember we were waiting and waiting and waiting for the check. Finally, our waiter came over and told us that someone at another table had paid for our meal because we seemed like such a nice family having a wonderful time together. It was such a gift — what a lovely surprise, and a memory that will always stay with me. So, every so often, when I am out at a restaurant and see a family or a couple or a member of our military, I try to “pay it forward” by secretly paying for their meal, the way that stranger did for my family two decades ago.

18. Give empowering notes and “inspiration gemstones” to my students. Since we are at the end of the school year, I thought it would be a fun time to give my students little notes of appreciation and pride over all their hard work and growth this year! I typically give them writing-related gifts like pencils and mini notebooks, but I wanted to do something different this time and ordered these cool gemstones on Etsy. I wrote them notes saying, You are a gem! and explained that these are lucky gemstones that will bring them inspiration when they are feeling writer’s block. My students seemed to really like them!

19. Scatter “lucky pennies” on a playground. I picked up a roll of pennies from the bank and drove to a playground close to my neighborhood. I scattered the pennies all over the playground and around on the sidewalks. I also left some pennies on the edge of a nearby fountain for people to use to make wishes.

20. Leave quarters on the laundry machine. I left a note and surprised one of our neighbors with a free load of laundry!

21. Let someone go ahead of me in line. At the grocery store, after I unloaded my full cart onto the conveyer belt, a woman came up behind me in line with just a small basket of items, so I let her go ahead. She was very grateful.

22. Donate clothes to charity. I went through my closet and found a dress and two shirts that are in great condition but that I never wear. Allyn also gave me some clothing that he wanted to donate, so I dropped everything off at Goodwill.

23. Take Murray for a walk and let him stop and sniff to his heart’s content. Love you so much, bubsy! Even though you can be a slow, stop-and-sniff walker!

24. Donate to a food pantry. A couple months ago, Allyn and I spent a morning volunteering at our county food bank. The manager told us that one of the most-requested items is peanut butter, since it lasts for so long and is filled with protein, and kids love it. So I went to the grocery store and bought four jars of peanut butter, and donated them to the bin for the food bank.

25. Donate my old pair of sneakers. I love these bright pink shoes! They were with me on my trip to Europe, all over town, and through countless workouts. They still have a lot of life in them, even though I have a new pair of sneaks now. So I did a bit of research and found a local donation center at Fleet Feet Sports. I hope they bring someone else joy and comfort!

26. Surprise someone with a visit. I took a book to my writing buddy Lari when I was home visiting my parents over Memorial Day weekend. Lari and I write each other letters throughout the year, but it is always so nice to visit in person. She has some health issues, so she isn’t able to get out of the house very much. We had a lovely time chatting and sipping on Starbucks iced lattes on her couch!

27. Thank our maintenance man. We are so lucky to have the best handyman at our apartment complex. Jose is friendly and fastidious—when we have a problem, he always wants to fix it for us in a hurry! Whether it is a squeaky door, a broken cabinet, or carpenter bees on our deck, he is our guy! I left a note for him in the front office, and also wrote a note to his supervisor about how wonderful he is.

28. Give money and a note to a street performer. At our local train station, there is nearly always a man playing the saxophone. It always brightens my day, but typically I am rushing past, anxious to make the train on time. This time, I made sure to head to the train station early so I could listen to him for a little bit. Then I dropped some money, along with a note, into his open saxophone case.

29. Answer a survey. Whenever I go to the post office, they always point out the survey at the bottom of the receipt, but I’m always too busy or forget to make the effort to go online and fill it out. This time, I went home and did the survey, giving our local post office rave reviews because they are awesome.

30. Surprise a child with a balloon at the grocery store. This is always one of my favorite things to do when I want to brighten my own day! I buy a balloon at the grocery store register and ask the checker if they will give it to a child who comes through the line. I love to think of the wonder on a little girl or little boy’s face to be surprised with a balloon for no reason!

 

Thanks so much to everyone who helped in my birthday acts of kindness; to everyone who sent me words of support and encouragement; and to everyone who joined the kindness chain and did acts of kindness! You have truly made my 30th birthday a masterpiece. Here’s to a sparkling new decade!

Lots of love and thanks,
❤ Dallas

* If you liked this post, you might want to check out the archives of my year of kindness challenge!

 

Your turn {if you want}:

Grab your journal or open a new document on your computer and “free-write” about kindness.

  • What is an act of kindness you have done or would like to do for others?
  • Write about a time someone surprised you with an act of kindness.
  • What is a memory that warms your heart, perhaps even many years later?
  • What is your favorite way to celebrate your birthday?

how small acts of nourishment make a huge difference

Tuesdays used to be my least favorite day of the week. They are my long days. On Tuesday, I have back-to-back {to-back-to-back} tutoring sessions with students. I leave the apartment at 2pm and don’t get home until after 10pm. Teaching individual writing sessions is an intensive process, which is a great thing—it’s why they are so effective! Thanks to the one-on-one guidance I am able to give my students, they improve so much, so quickly—in skill level as well as confidence. Their progress truly amazes me.

However, this intensity can also make teaching these sessions draining. I am an actress and my stage is the dining room table, seated across from a child or teenager armed with a pencil and a sheet of lined paper. Like an actress summoning every ounce of energy for each performance, I must bring “my all” to each class. Because not only is every student different—each and every session is different. Sometimes the students are wound up from a crazy day at school or a sugar-filled after-school snack. Sometimes they are grumpy from an argument with a friend at recess; other times they are down about a bad test grade they received back in class that day. If I’m not on my “A” game, our lesson will inevitably falter, the student descending into writer’s block or unfocused distraction. I need to read my students’ moods, and coax or prod them accordingly, in order to facilitate the greatest learning for each and every session we have together.

Thankfully, I do have a little break in the middle of my long day, from about 5:30-7pm. I used to fritter away this time with more “busywork” like email and housekeeping tasks. I would drive to a Peet’s coffeeshop, grab a muffin or scone as a snack to take the edge off my hunger, and open my tablet to my email inbox. Then I would spend that hour and a half attempting to whittle down my always-overflowing inbox.

Not surprisingly, when my break ended and it was time to head out for the remainder of my sessions with students, I would usually feel even more tired than I had been before my break began. It was getting late. I was hungry. I was exhausted. I would sometimes even feel a little resentful of my students, wishing that I could just head home instead. I would try to summon my best self for those evening sessions, but even though they went well, I would feel like I was using every ounce of my energy to stay positive and focused.

Some people dread Mondays. I’ve always told myself that I don’t want to dread any day of the week, because that means you are dreading 1/7th of your life. I love the weekend, but I’ve never really had a problem with Mondays. {Plus right now, during this season of my life, my favorite yoga class is on Monday mornings!} But… I was starting to kind of dread Tuesdays. I felt like I had to gear up for Tuesday each week. It was this mountain in the middle of my week that I had to climb. I didn’t like the feeling, but I didn’t really know what to do about it. I love my students, and they have very busy schedules. {Seriously—they are like mini CEOs!} These were the time blocks that worked for their schedules, and I didn’t want to cancel my lessons with them. I told myself to just “suck it up” and deal with it.

My first internal shift happened thanks to, of all things, a yeast infection. My doctor advised me to avoid sugar as much as possible while my body was healing, because yeast feeds off sugar. So, that week, instead of settling for my usual sugar-laden muffin at Peet’s, I took 10 minutes on Tuesday afternoon before I left to chop up some of my favorite veggies: snap peas, bell pepper, cucumber. I took these along with me in a Tupperware, and snacked on them as I checked my email during my break.

I noticed I felt better that evening. I had more energy and I didn’t feel hungry. It felt more like I’d had a real meal—an actual dinner, a salad just without the lettuce.

So, the next week, I packed myself some veggies again. I added an apple and some nuts for good measure. It became a new part of my Tuesday routine.

My next internal shift came with the Daylight Savings Time shift. Suddenly, it remained light out later. The weather began to warm up. Springtime was on the horizon. I was itching to spend more time outside, rather than cooped up indoors all day. Driving to Peets one Tuesday, I noticed a huge grassy sports park on my route. A thought struck: I want to go for a walk there.

So that’s exactly what I did. I pulled into the sports park. I took a walk. I breathed in the fresh air. I waved hello to other walkers and joggers. I felt… peaceful. Like I was able to press “pause” on my busy day and just be here in my body for a little while. After half an hour, I drove the rest of the way to Peet’s, where I ate my veggies and checked email. When it was time for me to head out for the rest of my student sessions, I felt even more refreshed than usual.

{spring tree from my Tuesday walk at the park}

So the next week, I took another walk. This time, I called my brother as I was walking. He’s on New York time, so I usually wasn’t able to chat with him on Tuesdays because I got home so late and our schedules were “out of sync.” It was so nice to check in and hear his voice.

Just like that, walking for 30 minutes became another part of my Tuesday break time routine. I began to look forward to it. Sometimes I listen to podcasts or chat with someone on the phone. Other times I walk in silence, listening to my own thoughts. I noticed that I began to get a lot of ideas during this time.

My final internal shift came about a month ago, when I sat down at Peet’s after my walk, and my head was filled with an idea for a blog post. So, instead of spending 45 minutes mindlessly checking my email, I didn’t even connect to the free Wi-fi. I opened a blank Word document and began typing.

That night, when I went to my sessions with students, I felt downright cheerful. I felt energized. After all, I always extolled the importance of writing and expressing themselves. Now I was practicing what I preached. I had just written something that mattered to me, and I was filled with the power that comes with putting your complicated jumble of thoughts down in steady, streamlined words.

Soon, I found myself looking forward to Tuesdays. That’s right—what used to be a day I dreaded is now a day I genuinely enjoy.

The crazy thing is, none of my responsibilities on this day have changed. I am still gone from 2pm to 10pm. I still have back-to-back intense sessions with students that can be emotionally and mentally draining. I still need to give my all up there “onstage.”

But, even with the challenges, I find my work fulfilling. I lost sight of that a little bit when I was so exhausted before.

The difference is that now, I’ve given myself some “me” time in the midst of my busy day. I nourish myself with self-care—literally with healthy food, physically with fresh air and exercise, and emotionally with connection, inspiration, and creative time. And, to paraphrase Robert Frost, “that has made all the difference.”

 

Your turn {if you want}:

Grab your journal or open a new document on your computer and use the following questions as inspiration for some free-writing:

  • Where can you find pockets of time for yourself in the midst of busy-ness?
  • What small changes can you make to your least favorite day, to turn it into a better day? {Maybe even, dare I say, your favorite day of the week?}
  • In what areas of your life are you settling, where you could be thriving?
  • What makes you feel nourished and rested?

my morning routine

I was thinking the other day about how some of my favorite posts to read by other bloggers are the ones where I get a peek into their daily lives and routines. I have always been so intrigued about the daily details of people’s lives {maybe that’s why I’m a fiction writer!} and something about these types of blog posts always inspires me. Lately I have become super fascinated with morning routines and I’ve spent some time the past month or so trying to tweak my own morning routine to serve me best.

It seems pretty crazy that it took me this long to figure out, but I’ve realized that I am someone who flourishes with structure. I like the IDEA of spontaneity and “see where the day takes me” much more than I actually like it in practice. When I think back to my days in school, I really enjoyed the structure of classes. The clear, concrete schedule made me feel grounded and kept me from getting overwhelmed because I wasn’t trying to do everything at once. In math class, I was focusing on math class. In English class, I was thinking about English. Whereas, when you work for yourself and mainly work from home, like I do, all of that built-in structure goes out the window. I love the freedom of being able to design my schedule, and the flexibility to mix things up… but I’ve come to understand that, for me to feel most productive and centered, I need to plan out a structure for myself in advance. I also tend to be happiest when I follow pretty much the same routine week by week. Without a structure, I flail around trying to multitask and do all the things all the time — and whatever I’m doing, I feel like I “should” be doing something else! It’s my own personal recipe for burn-out.

lake-tahoe-2

One reason I’ve become slightly obsessed with morning routines is that I’ve noticed that what I do in the morning definitely creates a tone, an energy, for the rest of my day. {Although I LOVE Alex Franzen’s piece “Today is Not Over Yet” and it has become my mantra for those days when I look at the clock and it’s noon and I get that panicked feeling of, “What have I even being doing the past five hours??”… Alex’s wise words always help me get my mojo back and rescue the day.}

But, in an ideal world, each and every morning I would set myself up for success by setting the best possible tone for the rest of my day. I definitely notice the difference on days when I make time for what is most important to me first thing in the morning. It makes me feel energized and focused and abundant and ready to take on whatever comes next. Moreover, in my current work schedule, mornings are “my time”… afternoons are when I get out of the house and drive around to various appointments with students. If I waste my mornings, I’m left feeling depleted at the end of the day, feeling like I didn’t do anything for myself the whole day.

My morning routine is a work-in-progress, and it does vary sometimes. Below is my weekday routine, except for Mondays, when I go to my favorite yoga class at 8:30 and hit the grocery store and errands on my way home. Our weekend routine is quite flexible — some days we sleep in and have slow mornings; other weekend days we are up and at ’em early. I think the important thing is finding a routine that works for YOU and your own unique and beautiful life.

my morning routine

My alarm goes off at 6:40—I used to press “snooze” but I have recently conquered the snooze button, and I’ve noticed that when I get up at the same time every day, my body tends to wake up naturally at that time and it is easier to get up. {Though, as I wrote in this post a while ago, something I’ve learned about myself is that I almost always feel tired when I first get up, even when I’ve gotten plenty of sleep… it takes me a few minutes to “rise and shine.”} Allyn tries to be out the door by 7:15 to catch his train to San Jose for work. He’s always up at 6, but I sleep in a little later. I do like to get up before he leaves so we can have a little time together in the morning.

I like to make the bed and then wash my face right when I get up. I used to not wash my face right away, but it’s a small thing that really makes a difference in how awake I feel. Something about a squeaky-clean face says, “Hello world! I’m up!”

I always wake up thirsty, so right away I down two or three glasses of water. Then I drink a glass of this supergreens drink — it looks like sewer sludge but I swear, it doesn’t taste *that* bad.

my green drink

Then I help Allyn get his lunch packed and ready — I often chop up veggies for him to take. He, meanwhile, steeps a mug of tea for me while he makes his own coffee to take to work. I kiss him goodbye and he heads out the door. I always watch him carry his bike down our apartment hallway. He turns and looks back at me when he gets to the outer door, and I wave. It’s a little thing, but it’s a moment every day that I treasure.

As soon as my hubby leaves, it’s my time to par-tay! Haha, just kidding. Usually the first thing I do when he leaves is clean the kitchen.

For some reason, I’ve noticed that I really like starting the day with a clean kitchen. I spend a lot of time in the kitchen throughout the day — since I work from home, I make all my meals and snacks throughout the day whenever the hunger monster strikes — and Allyn and I rarely go out to eat, so most nights we cook dinner at home, too. Often when we get up, there are dishes soaking in the sink, some dirty pots sitting on the stove, or a clean dishwasher to empty. If I don’t get the kitchen cleaned up first thing in the morning, I tend to feel “behind” in the kitchen the rest of the day — I’ll need to wash a cutting board before I can cut up my veggies for lunch, or unload the dishwasher before I can load it with new dirty dishes. When I get the kitchen straightened up and wiped down first thing, I feel like I’m starting my day with a “clean slate.” Something about a clean kitchen makes me feel like I can conquer the world!

clean kitchen

I like to do some stretching and exercises in the morning to get my body moving. My current favorite yoga routine is this gentle slow stretch video by Sara Beth Yoga. Then I do some hip exercises {I’m always tight in my hips for some reason} and some core strength work like squats, push-ups, and planks. I usually spend about 30-40 minutes doing my various exercises and afterwards, I feel both more energized and more relaxed, if that makes sense. I’m excited to get to work, not bogged down with stress!

After yoga and my exercises, my computer time begins. I sip on a mug of herbal tea and eat breakfast #1, which is usually a muffin or avocado toast. I seriously can’t get enough of avocado toast, generously sprinkled with sea salt and fresh-ground pepper.

avocado toast

One thing I’ve been focusing on this year — my year of FOUNDATION — is to work on the projects that matter most to me when I first sit down to start my workday. For me right now, that is my novel-in-progress. I’m about two-thirds of the way through the manuscript, and it’s really starting to “gel” and come together. The characters feel alive and I’m excited each day to see what they have to tell me! So right now, as I am blogging about this, it during a lovely creative period when is fairly easy for me to get into the writing each day. But my goal is to have writing time be a focused component of my day even when the writing is NOT going so well or is not so easy to get into. Again, like getting up in the morning, I’ve noticed that it gets easier if I “train my mind” by writing around the same time each day. A good time for me is from about 8:30-10am. Sometimes I’ll keep chugging along to 10:30 if I’m really in the groove. But I do like to follow Hemingway’s advice and always end my writing session in the middle of a scene — a place where I know what is going to happen next. That makes it a million times easier to jump into the writing the next day. If I stop at the end of a chapter, that is just asking for writer’s block when I sit down the next morning.

When my writing time ends, even if it’s been a sluggish day, I always feel happy and proud of myself. I may not always enjoy the process of writing, but I always love the feeling of having written. Sometimes I’ll have those special days where the words are really flowing and all of a sudden it’s been an hour and I’ll have written 1,500 words. Those days make my entire week! But no matter how the writing goes — it’s a good day if I kept my promise to myself and put in the time. No Facebook, no emails, no distractions. Just steadfast work towards my biggest goal. Nothing beats the feeling of looking at the clock and it’s 10am and you’ve already checked off your most important task of the day!

Usually when my writing time ends, my stomach is growling again, which means time for breakfast #2! This is almost always a green smoothie. My favorite blend is a couple handfuls of spinach, some frozen berries, half a banana, almond milk, ground flax and chia seeds, a spoonful of collagen, and a teaspoon of spirulina powder.

I’ll usually drink my smoothie while checking my email {although I don’t always succeed, my goal is to wait until this time of the morning to check it} and taking care of some business-y tasks. Then, I spend the next 2 hours or so powering through work for clients and students. This might entail editing essays and reports; writing copy for a client’s website; creating curriculums and lesson plans for my writing classes; conducting interviews for literary journals {I have one forthcoming in The Tishman Review this summer!}; updating my website; having Skype coaching calls with students; or a thousand more projects. One thing I love about my work is that it varies every day! I feel like I am constantly taking on new challenges, creating new content, learning and growing!

Something that has helped me that might be helpful if you are a fellow structure-lover, is to explicitly write down what tasks I am tackling that day and how much time I estimate each one will take. I do this the old-fashioned way on lined paper, because I love to cross things off a list. I’ll draw a simple grid with the hours on one side and the corresponding tasks on the other, and plan out what I’m going to work on during what time. This has been immensely helpful because it forces me to be honest about how long things will take and how much I can realistically get done in a day, and it also forces me to focus on one task at a time instead of jumping around, trying to multitask, and losing productivity.

When you’re juggling lots of clients and students, it can be easy to fall into a “guilt trap” of never feeling like you’re getting enough done. What used to happen is I’d be working on a report for one client while my brain was freaking out about the lesson plans I still had to create and that other potential client I needed to follow up with, and and and… Does this happen to anyone else?? Specifically writing down tasks and assignments for each day, with corresponding times, has freed me from this mental merry-go-round and has made such a huge difference in my happiness AND productivity!

Aaaaand that pretty much brings us to lunchtime. Thanks for joining me on this virtual tour of my morning!

 

Your turn {if you want}:

Grab your journal or open a new document on your computer and use these questions as inspiration for some free-writing.

  • What does your current morning routine look like?
  • What does your IDEAL morning routine look like? Is there anything you wish you had time for that you aren’t currently doing? Is there anything you are currently doing that you wish you could stop?
  • What are your biggest priorities that will help you make the most progress towards your goals? How can you dedicate more time for these priorities in your day?
  • What is one thing you could add to your morning routine that would make you feel more centered, calm, and happy?

7 things my dad has taught me

Today is my dad’s birthday!

me and daddy

I wish I was home with him to celebrate and give him a ginormous hug and bake him a peanut butter chocolate brownie cake, but that will just have to wait another 10 or so days until I’m home again. {We’re planning to celebrate both his birthday and my birthday a little belatedly this year when we’re all together again!}

bday brownies

In the meantime, in honor of this amazing guy’s birthday, I wanted to share with you 7 important lessons I have learned from my dad. I could have listed 707, but for the sake of brevity I kept it simple. 🙂

7 things my dad has taught me:

1. Find your passion, and follow it. My dad is the reason I became a writer. He is a journalist and author {he will always be my favorite writer!} and when I was growing up, he often wrote his columns from home so he could spend time with my brother and me. I have always loved to read, and soon I began making up my own stories. Dad let me sit on top of the phone book at the kitchen table and type up my stories on his special work computer. I was thrilled — and hooked on writing. I decided then and there that I wanted to grow up to be a writer just like my dad. I couldn’t {and still can’t!} imagine a better job than spending my days bringing characters to life on the page. Dad has been my cheerleader and supporter for as long as I can remember, and my love of writing is intrinsically connected to my relationship with him. Even when I was a kindergartener, he always took my writing seriously. He helped me find my voice. He taught me to talk through ideas, to stretch my limits, to search for the heart of the story, to edit and edit to make every word count, every word shine. He is still my #1 editor, first reader, go-to brainstormer, and biggest fan.

with dad steinbeck reading

At my Steinbeck Fellows reading last year.

Dad taught me that when you find something you love, that doesn’t feel like “work,” that you daydream about and would do for free because you can’t imagine NOT doing it — that is a true blessing, and not to be taken for granted. It can be difficult and scary to pursue your passion, but it is also a privilege. When I am feeling down or doubting myself, Dad is always there to lift me up and remind me that pursuing my passion for writing, through the good times and the bad, is how I honor my gifts and live a rich and meaningful life that makes me happy. Through his example, he has shown me what it means to follow your passion and devote your time to something that matters to you.

2. Little by little, big things happen. My dad has a passion for writing, and he also has a passion for running. He has run at least three miles every single day for the past 11 years, 10 months, and 24 days. Just thinking about that is overwhelming to me, but Dad insists that when you take it one day at a time, it’s easy. Every single day, you simply lace up your running shoes and get out there. {In fact, he swears getting ready to go run is often the hardest part — once he’s out there, he hits his stride and enjoys it, even on those days he didn’t especially feel like running.} Writing, or whatever your goals are, is the same way: just focus on one day at a time. Books are written one word at a time. Businesses are grown one transaction at a time. Relationships are built one phone call at a time. Little by little, big things happen.

Running-Santa-Clarita-Marathon-720x1024

3. Sometimes it’s good to break the rules. I have always been a natural rule-follower. Maybe it’s because I tend to worry, or just have a cautious personality. I never really had a “rebellious” stage, even as a teenager. However, my dad has taught me that it is important to evaluate rules and that sometimes taking a risk is worth it! One of my favorite memories of this is when I was four years old and Dad took me kite-flying at a park for the very first time. I was so excited! My kite had a rainbow design and it was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. The day was windy, perfect for kite-flying, but soon after we got my kite airborne, a strong gust of wind hit. The string snapped and my beautiful rainbow kite sailed off into a nearby barranca! Dad climbed over a tall fence — not fearing the NO TRESPASSING signs — and climbed a tree to rescue my kite. My hero!

me and daddy

4. Stay curious and always keep learning. Dad is one of the most curious people I know. He is always learning new things: reading books, listening to podcasts, watching PBS documentaries, traveling to new places. The older I get, the more I realize how hard it can be to keep an open mind and to constantly keep adjusting your opinions and views based on new information. Dad is a prime example of someone who is always listening and taking in knowledge, and I admire this about him so much. He is joyfully curious, and I think this is also something that keeps him young!

With Dad at a talk by Ken Burns, the legendary documentary filmmaker, at San Jose State University

With Dad at a talk by Ken Burns, the legendary documentary filmmaker, at San Jose State University

5. By giving to others, you give to yourself. Dad has shown me by example that pursuing your passion goes hand-in-hand with sharing your passion with others. One way to do so is to help give access to other people who may not be able to do what they love. For example, my dad — a longtime sports columnist — has held a Holiday Ball Drive for the past 20 years and has donated thousands of new sports balls to underprivileged kids. He inspired me to start a Holiday Book Drive to collect books to donate to libraries and youth organizations such as the Boys & Girls Club. He inspired my brother to found a nonprofit organization Give Running that has collected and donated more than 16,000 pairs of shoes to both domestic programs and third-world countries.

me and greg shoes

My dad also gives to others through small, everyday acts of kindness such as picking up litter when he runs at the park, paying the tab for servicemen and women at restaurants, and giving food to the homeless. He lives by The Golden Rule and has taught my brother and me to do the same. More important than giving is the intention and love behind the gesture; we have learned that by helping others, YOU are truly the one who gets the most out of the experience.

6. Take time to savor the ordinary details, and use “the good china” every day! Dad believes in making every day special, and using those special items — “the good china” — in your everyday life. After all, what are you saving it for? Why have it if not to enjoy and get use out of it? He has also taught me to take the time to recognize and appreciate the small details that make life rich and beautiful. Whether it’s a gorgeous sunset, a happy tail-wagging welcome home from a dog, a hot shower, a cold drink, a fresh-baked cookie, a new-to-you book or movie, a soft pillow, a hug from someone you love… close your eyes, savor and enjoy the details. Don’t just rush through your life. Don’t put off happiness until “someday.” Find something to be happy for and grateful for today!

me and dad

7. Love is the most important thing of all. Show AND tell people that you love them. Every morning, I wake up to a text from Dad wishing me a masterpiece day and saying that he loves me. Every night, he sends me a goodnight text saying he loves me and is proud of me. I never get tired of hearing those words. Growing up, he would write notes on napkins for our lunchboxes every single day. Not only did he tell my brother and me he was proud of us, he showed it by hanging up our awards, displaying our report cards and track ribbons, framing our school artwork. Every school performance, athletic event, book signing, academic competition — he has been there. He even drove 5+ hours each way to surprise me and attend my Steinbeck Fellows reading! When I was in college, Dad drove down to L.A. to have lunch with me every single week. He never complained about traffic; he always made it seem like a joy, rearranging his work schedule so we could have our “lunch dates.” He always has time for us and treats our family as his #1 priority. He is the most thoughtful person I know.

with my boys

Above all else, Dad has taught me that love is the most important thing in this life. It is important to both show those you love how much you love them, and to tell them in words, too. Yes, we *know* how much Dad loves us, but we still love hearing him say it.

And now I want to say it to him, though I hope he already knows: Daddy, I love you more than words can express! Thank you for being my sunshine and for brightening my life every day. It is such a blessing to be your daughter. Happy birthday!!

Happy birthday dad

a year of Wooden: final wrap-up

Hello there, friends! Now that we’re into 2015, I’ll be embarking on a new year-long challenge on Monday… but first, I wanted to do a final post wrapping up this amazing year of Wooden challenge.

a year of wooden

  • January: Drink deeply from good books
  • February: Make friendship a fine art
  • March: Help others
  • April: Build a shelter against a rainy day {financially}
  • May: Be true to yourself
  • June: Give thanks for your blessings every day
  • July: Love
  • August: Balance
  • September: Drink deeply from good poetry
  • October: Make friendship a fine art {new friends}
  • November: Pray for guidance
  • December: Make each day your masterpiece

December’s final challenge was to brainstorm a list of activities for each of your three happiness terms. This was really helpful for me — I now have a list of tasks that are guaranteed to make me feel happy and fulfilled. If I ever feel bored or unsure what to do, I can look at this list and come up with a game plan quickly. For example, doing yoga is something that makes me feel connected; volunteering at my church makes me feel helpful; and writing a page of my novel-in-progress makes me feel productive. This, in turn, makes me feel happy.

Looking back over the year, it has been quite a fulfilling journey!

year of wooden collage

I was looking back in my journal from the end of 2013, and I found an entry where I asked four big questions to the universe. These were issues I was really struggling with, causing me uncertainty and worry. They were:

  • How will I know when I meet the person I am meant to be with?
  • Where am I supposed to be living at this time of my life?
  • What is the next step for my career?
  • How can I give more to others?

Now, a year later, all of these questions have been answered for me:

  • I met my sweetheart and felt connected to him immediately, and our relationship has opened up a beautiful new definition of love in my life.
  • I have created a community of friends and connections, personal and professional, in the Bay Area, and — for now at least– it feels like home to me, where I am meant to be living in this season of my life.
  • I feel much more confident in my writing and teaching career, and satisfied with my decision not to pursue a Ph.D. but instead to write what I want to write, what makes me come alive.
  • And I have become involved with a multitude of service and social justice endeavors through my church, which has become one of the cornerstones of my life.

three grand essentials

I thought I was happy a year ago — and I was. But now I feel a much deeper happiness: a happiness that stems from being at peace. I feel secure. I feel connected to my inner self, and to the greater world outside myself. I doubt I would be feeling this way if not for the growth, reflection and discipline of this yearlong challenge. I am so grateful for the insights and teachings of Coach Wooden, one of the wisest human beings to ever grace the world with his presence. Though this official “year of Wooden” is drawing to a close, I will carry these principles with me for the rest of my life.

I want to leave you with one of my favorite-ever quotes from Coach Wooden:

wooden success quote

Here’s to striving, day by day by day, to become the best we are capable of becoming… and celebrating the journey along the way!

Question for the day:

highlights of 2014

Hello, my friends! Hope you are having a wonderful New Year’s Eve! I am home in Ventura, planning to celebrate with my family and watch the ball drop on television tonight to ring in a wonderful new year. 2015, here we come!

Today has been all about reflection, journaling, and goal-setting for me. I believe it is important to take time to celebrate all the gifts, joys, accomplishments, and surprises the year has given you, before diving into the grand adventure of a pristine blank calendar ahead!

In that spirit, here are my…

highlights of 2014

This year, I made a goal of drinking one green smoothie or eating one giant salad each day, and I promptly fell in love with greens and veggies. Now I often have a green smoothie AND a salad each day! I consider this shift to be one of my greatest accomplishments for 2014, because it has been a complete lifestyle change and I have a great feeling it’s going to stick around for the rest of my life.

big salad

I also began attending yoga class three times a week, and going to church every Sunday, which has been amazing for my mental health and spiritual well-being.

yoga meditation

Work-wise, this year I published short stories in Arroyo Literary Review, Superstition Review, Louisiana Literature, Steinbeck Now, and American Fiction 13: The Best Unpublished Short Stories by American Writers, and received acceptances for forthcoming publications in North Dakota Quarterly, The East Bay Review, Literati Quarterly, and Fourth River. I published nonfiction in Passages North, Faith Hope & Fiction, and three Chicken Soup for the Soul books. I’m also really excited that some of my poetry is being used by a composer at Carnegie Mellon University as lyrics for a song-cycle — can’t wait to hear it!

This year I published three short stories online as Amazon Kindle Digital Shorts, and I was honored to be part of San Francisco’s LitQuake event for the first time! I gave a reading as part of Arroyo Literary Review.

me reading arroyo

In January, I was excited to be a guest on the “Our Ventura” TV show, interviewed about my writing by my friend Ken McAlpine.

http://ourventura.com/empowering-kids-through-writing-and-reading/

On February 1st, I went to an ice-cream parlor for a blind first date on a rainy Friday night. I was extremely nervous, but as soon as Allyn said hello and smiled at me with his kind eyes, I felt at ease. As we talked and laughed and our ice-cream date stretched to a walk and coffee too, I knew that I had met someone special. Now, nearly a year later, I can’t imagine life without my sweetheart!

me and allyn

In February I also celebrated Chinese New Year by participating in a giant scavenger hunt around San Francisco; had the best Valentine’s Day of my life; and went to Seattle for the AWP conference, where I was able to reconnect with many writer friends and celebrate the publication of my friend Tera’s poetry book!

tera booksigning

seattle market

In March, we celebrated my grandma’s 82nd birthday with a big family dinner at the country club.

the girls at gmas bday

gparents gmas bday

I gave my final reading as a Steinbeck Fellow at San Jose State University, and was thrilled beyond words when my dad drove up to surprise me and attend the reading! I felt very loved to have so many of my friends and family members there supporting me.

with dad steinbeck reading

In April, I began working at Communication Academy, teaching classes in creative writing and public speaking for kids. I love my job!

nice teacher drawing

I celebrated Easter by volunteering at a soup kitchen, something I want to make a tradition. In April I also went on a trip to Mendocino with Allyn and his family, where we did wonderful hiking, puzzle-ing, relaxing, and even saw whales in the wild!

me and al mendocino

On May 10th, my cousin Julie got married! It was so much fun to celebrate with our extended family, plus Allyn came down for the wedding, too, and got to meet everyone!

julie and chris

wedding reception family pic

me and allyn wedding beach

At the end of May, I turned 27 and celebrated by doing 27 random acts of kindness. It was such an amazing and fulfilling experience that I am making it a new birthday tradition! I also was blessed to celebrate my birthday with my family and friends.

my birthday wish

bday friends

During the summer, I taught week-long camps for Communication Academy and also taught my biggest, most successful Summer Writing Camp ever!

writing camp

Holly came to visit me in Northern California and we bopped around San Francisco and Berkeley, cooked lots of delicious food, and watched way too many episodes of a so-terrible-it’s-good TV show that I am too embarrassed to name 🙂

me and holly lombard st

Later in the summer I visited Allyn in New Orleans, where he had a summer internship, and fell in love with the city. We ate beignets, wandered around the gaslamp district, watched fireworks over the Mississippi River on the 4th of July, saw gators on a swamp tour, took a weekend getaway to the Florida white-sanded beaches, and just soaked up the vibrant music, food, and colors of such a unique place.

me and Al new orleans

new orleans architecture

gator

20140706_140656

After New Orleans, I hopped on a plane and visited my brother in Washington, D.C., where he was doing a summer internship! I hadn’t been to D.C. for years and years, and exploring it with my brother was a blast. We went to the Ford’s Theater museum, a hidden gem, and Greg surprised me with tickets to see Sara Bareilles in concert!

me with capitol

sara concert

In August, my grandma successfully made it through her hip replacement surgery, hooray! She is doing so much better now. Also in August, I became a Worship Associate at my church and discovered that I absolutely love sharing and serving in this way. Here’s a video of a Call to Worship that I gave on the topic of transience.

In September, my parents went on a trip to Ireland to celebrate their anniversary and I spent a few weeks in Ventura house-sitting — and dog-sitting Mr. Mur-dog! Dana came to visit over Labor Day weekend and we had a blast soaking up the sunshine at the beach.

dana sb

In October, I threw my sweetheart a surprise party for his birthday! It was definitely one of the highlights of my year. The stunned, joyful look on his face is a memory I will cherish forever.

surprise party

For Halloween, we carved pumpkins and Al and I dressed up as Sebastian and the Little Mermaid. It was the most fun Halloween I’ve had since college.

me and allyn halloween

lit up pumpkins

In November, I finished the novel I’ve been working on for the past three years!!

finished novel doc

For Thanksgiving, we spent a week in Mexico with my mom’s extended family, and then went home to Ventura where we hosted a big group of my brother’s MBA classmates for Thanksgiving dinner! It was such a joyful holiday.

Woodsgiving

Which brings us to December. The highlights of this month for me have been spending time with my loved ones — celebrating Dana’s birthday and Greg’s birthday; Christmas with extended family on both sides; and soaking up time with my sweetheart before he left for his 3-week humanitarian trip to Kenya on December 29th!

me and allyn christmas

Other fulfilling moments this holiday season included reading Chicken Soup for the Soul stories to a group of senior citizens, donating sports balls and books to the Boys & Girls Club, and taking cookies and Christmas cards to a local nursing home in honor of my dear friend Jewell.

reading at cypress place

I remember at this time last year, I had so many questions about my life, so much uncertainty about where I should be and what I should be doing. I had so many worries — was I a good enough writer? Would I be able to make a living doing what I love? Would I ever fall in love again?

2014 taught me faith. 2014 taught me to find joy in the uncertainty, to savor the surprises. 2014 taught me the importance of being vulnerable, of opening up your heart, of taking risks and trying new things. I learned to trust the process and find fulfillment in the journey. I learned to be honest about what I want — what I TRULY want, not what I think I should want or what I think will make others happy  — and then to go after what I want with determination and grit and excitement. And I learned also how to rest, how to unplug, how to take time to be quiet and sit with my soul — and how important that is to my happiness.

I learned that life could be even more beautiful, more fulfilling, and more rich with love than I ever dreamed possible.

Looking back at 2014, what I feel most is overwhelming gratitude. If I could reach back through time and whisper in the ear of my December 31, 2013 self, I would say, “Don’t worry so much, dear one. I know you feel all wound up, in a tight little ball, but really you are a bud. And soon you are going to open up and blossom.”

Blossom quote

Here’s to a new year filled with good surprises, beautiful vulnerabilities, celebrations large and small, and blossoming in all areas of our lives.

a year of Wooden: week 46

Hello there, everyone! Hope your week is going splendidly, and that you are able to take some time for yourself in the midst of the craziness of this holiday season to reflect on what matters most in your life.

We are into our final weeks of this year of Wooden challenge. For December, we’re focusing on my favorite item of Coach John Wooden’s 7-Point Creed: “Make each day your masterpiece.” In other words, we’re tying together all that we’ve learned and all the ways we’ve grown through the past eleven months!

a year of wooden

  • January: Drink deeply from good books
  • February: Make friendship a fine art
  • March: Help others
  • April: Build a shelter against a rainy day {financially}
  • May: Be true to yourself
  • June: Give thanks for your blessings every day
  • July: Love
  • August: Balance
  • September: Drink deeply from good poetry
  • October: Make friendship a fine art {new friends}
  • November: Pray for guidance.
  • December: Make each day your masterpiece.

Last week’s challenge was to break down what “happiness” means to you in three specific terms. We all say we want to be “happier” but what does that really mean? It’s different for all of us. Last week, your challenge was to rainstorm a list of all the terms that you associate with happiness. Then, place a star next to the three terms that are most important to YOU and your own individual happiness.

After much reflection and soul-searching and self-honesty, here are the three terms I came up with for my own sense of happiness. To me, feeling happy is feeling:

  • connected
  • helpful
  • productive

For this week’s challenge, brainstorm a list of activities for each of your three terms. For example, for me, doing yoga is something that makes me feel connected; volunteering at my church makes me feel helpful; and writing a page of my novel-in-progress makes me feel productive. This, in turn, makes me feel happy.

A quick note: I want to make sure to note the difference between happiness and pleasure. Something that makes you happy might not necessarily be 100% pleasurable as you are doing it. And that’s okay. That’s the way it should be. For example, I do not usually feel joyful as I type every word of my daily writing goal. Writing, for me, is happiness, but it is also difficult. Hard work is hard! Work is work! But the right kind of work leads to a greater sense of joy and fulfillment… the sturdy, beautiful kind of happiness that lasts.

Question for the day:

  • What are the terms that you chose for your own individual happiness?
  • What activities could you do to make you feel this way?

a year of Wooden: week 45

Hi, friends! Hope your week is going great! We are into our final month of this year of Wooden challenge. For December, we’re focusing on my favorite item of Coach John Wooden’s 7-Point Creed: “Make each day your masterpiece.” In other words, we’re tying together all that we’ve learned and all the ways we’ve grown through the past eleven months!

a year of wooden

  • January: Drink deeply from good books
  • February: Make friendship a fine art
  • March: Help others
  • April: Build a shelter against a rainy day {financially}
  • May: Be true to yourself
  • June: Give thanks for your blessings every day
  • July: Love
  • August: Balance
  • September: Drink deeply from good poetry
  • October: Make friendship a fine art {new friends}
  • November: Pray for guidance.
  • December: Make each day your masterpiece.

I believe the foundation of “making each day a masterpiece” is having a true awareness of how you spend your day. Last week’s challenge was to take something you didn’t like about how you spend your day, and fix it. The thing I disliked most about my daily schedule was realizing that I try to multi-task too much! A lot of this is due to checking email throughout the day — yet my inbox still feels overflowing and unmanageable.

This week, I made a few small, simple changes. First, I went through my inbox and ruthlessly unsubscribed to mailers. I realized there were a lot of messages I’d get week after week and just delete them, or not have time to read them, so I took the time to go through and unsubscribe. My inbox immediately felt more manageable.

The second thing I did was try to change how I tackle email. I am a big procrastinator when it comes to my inbox. I’ll receive an email, open it to read it, but then put off replying. So the email sits there, sits there, sits there, with me maybe reading and it and putting it off once or twice more in that span of time, before I finally open it yet again and reply {while feeling bad that it took me that long to reply.} I know, as I type it all out here, it seems like an insanely inefficient system — I don’t really have an answer for WHY I would put off answering emails in this way, other than I didn’t always feel like answering them and it was always easier to just put it off “till later.”

The simple change I am doing now is this: I read an email, and reply to it right then, if at all possible. Occasionally I will need to wait to reply because I will need to do something or research something or write something in order to reply, but I am finding that 80% of the time I can reply right away. Then the email is gone from my inbox, takes up no more of my brain space, and suddenly checking email becomes way more efficient!

workstation

On a related note, I stopped having my email open constantly and instead try to check it only at certain points of the day. In this way, I am trying to turn email into a specific “task” I complete, rather than a constant drain on my time and attention.

I’m not saying my email habits have suddenly morphed into perfect stress-free productiveness, but I have noticed a definite change in the past week with these simple changes.

If any of you have tips on managing email effectively, I would love to hear them!

This week’s challenge is to break down what “happiness” means to you in three specific terms. We all say we want to be “happier” but what does that really mean? It’s different for all of us. For some people, happiness might be associated with feeling strong and capable. Others might associate it with feeling needed. Others might associate it with feeling connected to other people. Brainstorm a list of all the terms that you associate with happiness. Then, place a star next to the three terms that are most important to YOU and your own individual happiness.

We’ll build on this in next week’s challenge!

Question for the day:

  • What is something you disliked about your daily schedule?
  • What small change{s} did you make? What was the effect of these changes?